'I wanted them but thought it was too late' - Experts outline the benefits and drawbacks of braces

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Musician Gigi LaMayne shows off her braces.
Musician Gigi LaMayne shows off her braces.
  • Wearing braces is no longer reserved for children only. More and more women opt for this orthodontic treatment to 'fix' their smiles. 
  • As of late, there seems to be an increasing number of celebrities and content creators showing off their braces. 
  • Braces can help with straitening teeth and reduce a gummy smile, among other benefits.

Anyone who feels self-conscious about the shape and size of their teeth can find some solace from U.S. rapper J.Cole’s song Crooked Smile, in which he encourages listeners not to allow their imperfections to affect their self-confidence.

But that’s cold comfort for the likes of the then 30-year-old Tumi Moagi, who decided, as a working woman, to pay for her own braces despite being on the receiving end of funny comments and rude remarks.

“People get shocked that I have braces at my age, and ask why I didn’t get them when I was younger. Yet they forget that some of us aren’t from privileged families. I’m happy about the change they’re going to bring and don’t pay any attention to what people say,” Tumi explains.

Maybe you can relate to Tumi, and have decided that it’s time to fix your ‘crooked smile’. Before you do, consider the expert advice offered by orthodontists and dentists on what it involves, and how to take care of your pearly whites once it’s done.

READ MORE | Teeth and toothpaste myths busted 

Did you know?

1. All whitening toothpaste contain bicarbonate of soda, epsom salts and lemon juice.

2. Coconut oil can be used to discourage the growth (proliferation) of bacteria.

3. Turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory and anti-infective agent.

4. Charcoal neutralises bacterial feed and has antifungal and breath-freshening properties.

5. Tea tree oil is an anti-infective agent.

Why braces?

There are various reasons why adults decide to have braces fitted later in life, says Dr Bongiwe “Bee” Nhlangulela, principal dentist at Lister Clinic in Joburg.

“One reason could be because of your mouth function or your overbite (when your upper teeth overlap the bottom ones). Braces help with how you consume food and digestion because, unlike crooked ones, straight teeth break food down better, and they’re easier to clean,” Nhlangulela says.

But, for most people, investing in braces raises their confidence and self-esteem. And for others, it’s simply for aesthetics and improving their image, says Dr Peggy Mafojane, a dentist based in Alberton.

“A good smile can help some people secure a job, especially for work at an upfront desk or when it involves interacting with clients,” Mafojane says.

She points out that the treatment can be pricey, and that the cost is prohibitive for many people.

“Socio-economic circumstances can delay a patient, who’s always been worried about her smile, from getting it fixed sooner,” Mafojane adds.

READ MORE | Celebrities who've had cosmetic surgery done, plus what types they had according to an expert 

The perks

Among other things, orthodontics can reduce the appearance of a gummy smile, and relieve the pain on your temporomandibular joints (two joints that connect the jaw to the skull), facial pain dysfunction, headaches and neck and jaw pain.

“Braces can also help level out the appearance of your gum line to give an even smile that follows the curvature of your lip,” explains Dr Keshrina Karachi, a dental surgeon at Holistic Dental Medicine and Surgery in Sandton.

This was 31-year-old Dambisa Maqoga’s experience, who only got braces after her dentist made the suggestion — proof that those bi-annual visits are worth the effort.

“I got braces when I was 29 years old. I didn’t think I needed them until I saw the difference they made to my teeth. There’s no shame in getting them as an adult. If we had the means when I was younger, I would have considered them,” Dambisa shares.

And whether you get braces for medical reasons or to feel more confident, it’s worth doing the research and knowing that it’s never too late. This was the pleasant surprise for 52-year-old Zanele Nzuza who got hers at 50, and is happy with her decision.

“I had wanted them for some time but thought it was too late. I decided to do some research and not care about what people thought. At 50, it was a gift to myself to invest in my looks. I’m happy I did it!” she beams.

The drawbacks

Yes, there are some discomforts – fitting braces when you’re older tends to be more painful, as Karachi experienced. She had orthodontics for the second time, as an adult.

“I was naughty as a child and never wore my retainer (that keeps the teeth in position), so my one tooth had become skew. It’s much more painful as an adult, compared to resilient busy kids. On adults, the brackets seem to cut our gums more, and we’re also more prone to ulcers,” Karachi says.

Nhlangulela agrees that many might not be aware that teeth can move back to their usual state, if not retained.

“Relapse is common. This is more likely to happen if you didn’t conform to wearing retainers after the manipulation of the braces,” she explains.

Thuso Sekhaolelo, 30, had a retainer but didn’t abide by doctor’s orders and as a result, had to get braces again as an adult.

“When I was younger I had a retainer, but got tired of being bullied, so decided to wait till I was older to get them (again). I’m more confident now than when I was a scrawny kid, and I handle the pain and mockery better. It’s nothing really,” Thuso adds.

Bottom line: no pain, no gain!

Five don’ts to observe to keep a winning smile
  • Don’t avoid dental checkups. Treating worsened conditions can become cumbersome and costly.
  • Don’t avoid the use of floss, as it keeps the gums healthy and prevents gum disease.
  • Don’t use toothpicks to remove stuck food particles. It damages the gums and widens the spaces between teeth, so more food will get trapped as time goes on.
  • Don’t brush too hard. This damages your teeth and gums and can lead to sensitivity.
  • Don’t skip brushing, especially before bedtime. Most damage happens at night when there isn’t much activity in the mouth.

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